Why is Living in Self-Isolation a Rehearsal For Space Exploration?

By  //  March 11, 2021

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is trying to adapt to the new conditions. Many projects are being phased out and budgets are being cut. It may seem that space exploration and exploration is a secondary activity: it is more important to save people on Earth now, and Mars can be postponed for later.

In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of news about the postponement of space launches and the rescheduling of projects.

For example, Roscosmos announced the postponement of the joint ExoMars mission with the European Space Agency until 2022, evacuated its employees from the Kourou spaceport, canceled all international contacts, and even postponed the celebration of Cosmonautics Day until the fall.

However, the connection between space and the pandemic is not limited to changing project schedules. Space gives us a different perspective on the spread of the virus and allows us to reassess the situation of the epidemic.

From Neil Armstrong to Elon Musk, it is believed that an individual’s steps on the moon are a leap for all mankind. According to the International Outer Space Treaty, astronauts are “messengers of all mankind. From another point of view, space exploration is the result of the space race. Wernher von Braun, the creator of the Nazi V-2 rockets and father of the American lunar program, believed that if there had been no competition with the Russians, the Americans could not have landed on the Moon at all.

In international space law, space debris, if it falls on our heads and/or pollutes the environment, is considered to belong to the state that owns it.

Finally, there is the view that space exploration is not carried out by astronaut heroes and chief constructors, but by ordinary people, such as factory workers, constructors, designers, and other professions. Writer Margot Lee Shetterly, in her book “Hidden Figures.

The Story of African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,” showed that African American female calculators Mary Jackson, Catherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan made significant contributions to the U.S. lunar program. For a long time, the activities of African-American women at NASA were “below the radar” of all humanity and nation-states.

The participation of ordinary people becomes visible when we engage the local scale. There is a good movie based on Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures, which you can watch on Quarantine.

They compete with each other and try to bet on their subject. What is it that strengthens them?

Donald Trump recently signed an executive order on resource extraction on the Moon and Mars that does not consider space to be the domain of all mankind, allowing the U.S. to conduct commercial activities on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids.

The states challenge the Agreement on the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies and the Outer Space Treaty, which has been ratified by the U.S. side. “Roscosmos has responded by saying that this is an attempt by the U.S. to “take over other planets.”

Trump and his administration are just trying to revive the understanding of space exploration as an activity of sovereign states. Such a statement noticeably reinforces the national scale of space exploration and weakens the global and local scale.

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The coronavirus pandemic shows that a project called “Humanity” may exist beyond the limited perspective of one’s apartment. How do we see “all of humanity”?

How do we believe that such a community exists? It is the actions of nation-states or individuals selfishly buying up buckwheat and toilet paper that are obvious to us. It is the exploration of space that gives us a global perspective, bringing the whole of humanity into view.

The situation on our ship is dangerous – at one point the usual practices and rules broke down: we can’t walk in the park, go out for coffee, hug our friends, and do many other things. In this situation, space stations, bases on the Moon, and other planets are outposts of survival in an aggressive environment and isolation…

During a pandemic, humanity may have a unique experience of living in mass isolation. Ordinary people will be inventing a whole new way of life.

Not only technical protocols are important in space exploration, but also the informal experience of everyday life. Reading the diaries of astronauts, we see that in their work they invent ways to circumvent prescriptions from Earth. For example, they learn to complete tasks in less time so that the hours and minutes they save can be devoted to themselves.

It is not only and not so much the regulations that are important for productive work, but also informal and flexible strategies for circumventing these rules.

It seems that the pandemic is not only a driver for the development of remote communication technologies (imagine how many knobs Zoom is now tweaking in search of optimal solutions). Ordinary people in isolation choose different strategies: some are boozing uncontrollably while waiting for the quarantine to end, some are pissed off at recommendations and behave as if nothing happened, and some are inventing a new way of existence for our collective future.

For example, the way we use gadgets and apps is now radically changing. In the limited space of our apartments, we are looking for a nook for teleconferencing, trying to keep relationships at a distance and make effects (like jokes) spread online as well.

The experience of mass isolation and remote communication technology is a kind of space citizen science, the results of which can be collected, analyzed and used in future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Citizen science is about engaging ordinary people without special skills, who are interested in science, to solve serious research problems. Citizen scientists can, in the form of a game or competition, process signals from space, mark up stellar bodies, or search for possible protein compounds. A large part of humanity is already practicing in their simulation apartments how to behave on lunar and Martian bases.

At the same time, space stations and colonists’ settlements on the Moon and Mars may soon become a refuge for the Earth’s civilization. If something happens on Earth, astronauts and cosmonauts will be the ones who will preserve and continue the project called “Humanity” in space.

Already today Elon Musk, who, by the way, is still testing the new Starship interplanetary spacecraft despite the coronavirus, and other advocates of the NewSpace movement are agitating with their successes and PR campaigns for space exploration and relocation to other planets of all humanity to preserve intelligent life in the universe.

As physicist David Deutsch states in his book “The Structure of Reality. In the Science of Parallel Universes, sooner or later (in about 5 billion years) the Sun will first heat up and then go out.

Moreover, today we know that our immune system was formed as a result of a symbiosis between the body and viruses. Frank Ryan writes about this symbiosis in his book Evolution. On a global scale, the study of the emergence and spread of life in the universe (astrobiology) can shed light on earthly epidemics and pandemics.

Material and intellectual investment in astrobiology can help see Earth’s pandemics on the scale of the solar system or the universe. It may turn out that in this global sense, life is contaminated, humanity is the result of a cosmic pandemic, and the coronavirus is only a small step in the evolution of life in the universe. Unfortunately, this cosmic scale excludes some important details and ignores the value of individual human life.